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Originally published at milleadial.com

In 2010, I thought I was going to lose my job.

I had just gotten out of a very hard conversation with my boss at the time, during which he told me that he was so unimpressed by my performance and work ethic that, if somebody asked him at that moment if I were worth keeping employed, he would have to say “no.” But he believed I could do better, and so he told me “This is the turning point. This is where you decide if you’re going to make this work or not. You know my expectations, and you know your own expectations for yourself. Get back to work and fulfill them.”

In my last post, I talked about adding value. In this post, I’m going to lay out a couple of points that build on that foundation, and that you can use to answer the fundamental question of business, and really of leadership as a whole: Why Should I Pay You?

Why Should I Pay You is the first, and most important question that we have to answer, whether we’re employees, employers or solo entrepreneurs. What the question is really asking is this: What is it, about me, that makes my knowledge, expertise or skills worthy of exchanging your money for? What do I bring to the table that nobody else does?

For me, to be honest, this is a question that I’ve struggled with in my own life, and I believe that this struggle is what led my boss back in 2010 to pull me aside and give me some hard truth. I don’t always feel like I bring anything unique to the party! Surely, I tell myself, the skills and knowledge that I’ve gained through my experiences could be easily duplicated by a hundred other people, probably more successfully than I can. But this is what my boss understood, and what I have come to understand in the years since I was almost fired: Answering the question Why Should I Pay You is an exercise in evaluating your own self-worth.

Did you catch that? I didn’t say it was an objective exercise in evaluating your worth, but rather your self-worth. Therein lies the kicker: The answer to Why Should I Pay You has more to do with how you value yourself than it does with how others value you! That’s where your power as an individual comes in to play: Your prospective client, or customer has granted you the opportunity to explain to them exactly why they should pay you, and not somebody else. Could they get the same services, or products from somebody else? Probably. But they’re here. Now. In front of you and your products, either physically or digitally by coming to your website or social media page. In that moment, you have their undivided attention. In that moment, you could focus on the sale, but I’m not writing this to teach you how to be a better salesperson. I’m not writing this to teach you how to “10X” your marketing skills. This post is more foundational than that: I want you to understand yourself and your worth. I want you to know, deep down, in your heart of hearts, what it is that you and you alone bring to the table. If you judge your value on the sum total of your knowledge, skills or experience, then you’ll always come up short. Somebody else will always have more, or better, or cheaper, or faster. Here’s the plot twist I want to lay out for you and get you to understand right now:

The answer to the question Why Should I Pay You is wrapped up in who you are. Nobody else, on this planet, has your precise blend of knowledge, skills and experience, combined with your personality, drive, character, integrity and willpower, further combined with your network of connections, and access to resources. That combination is exclusively unique to you.

And that’s why I love when a client, either literally (as in, standing in front of me, speaking those four words) or figuratively, by browsing to my website, or watching a video on my YouTube channel, or engaging on my social media, asks me The Question. I love it, not because it gives me another opportunity to practice my elevator pitch (although that’s a good thing to do, and you should definitely practice yours!) I love it because it gives me an opportunity to share my goals, my vision, and my self-worth with my clients. It enables me to engage authentically as a person, rather than as a brand or a product. My clients aren’t asking me if I’m the best, or the smartest, or the cheapest. They’re asking me if I value myself enough to put everything that I am, the sum total of everything I mentioned above, into their project, or product, or service.

If you’re not willing to put it all into your work, then the only honest way to answer “Why Should I Pay You?” is with the answer “You shouldn’t.”

Originally published at milleadial.com.

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Writing about life, leadership, money and business.

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